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Online journal devoted to (un)popular culture's murkier regions. Began as Grim Humour magazine in 1983 and lasted eighteen editions until 1993. Took a break until 2000 when it was relaunched as Adverse Effect magazine (which continued with the old numbering system). Four editions published until 2005, then compromised into being available via the internet, where a barely maintained website exists. Grim Humour itself is presently slowly evolving into a book dedicated to various highlights and low points from the magazine, whilst two record labels, Fourth Dimension and Lumberton Trading Company, hover very closely like needy cousins. Send review material to: ul. Krolowej Jadwigi 133/5 30-212 Krakow Poland

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reviews: Number One

What follows is a collection of reviews spanning 2006 to 2008. Most of these are likewise on the website, but I am anxious to get things moving into some kind of shape here as well. Please also note that, unless we are not aware of the country of origin, all labels are UK based beyond those stated. Reviews by Richard Johnson, Kate MacDonald and Sacha Colgate.

ACOLYTES ACTION SQUAD Winkle Time CD (Early Winter Recordings, 2007)
Sheffield based duo A.A.S.’s debut album, Bust Of, surfaced 7 years before this follow-up, but it would appear absolutely nothing has compromised their often erratic and jagged swerves into the kinda terrain where idiosyncratic souls as disparate as NWW, Richard Youngs, Omit and The Gerogerigegege can also be caught stalking around. Throughout the eleven songs here a certain DIY aesthetic remains in check, but stealthily avoids the no/lo-fi trappings so often found attached, remora-like, to it. Instead, the production allows for the sounds and ideas to breathe. Which is a good thing, because there’s quite a lot going on here that commands it and would otherwise be reduced to sonic mulch. Mashed-up interludes greet spacious guitar passages, amp hum and electronic chattering gives way to solo female vocals, an Amon Duul-type ur-jam makes itself known, junk shop madness bubbles away, songs dissolve just as they’re beginning to form, languid flotsam coils around vague structures, and fragmentary noodling ripens the gaps. Fine stuff, skimming those places where the avant-garde is fucked around with even more and cast alongside different approaches to music without once either puffing on the air of pretension or falling into futile bedroom terrorism. Mysterious and quirky, yet never annoying, Winkle Time reveals much to hold onto without ever being obvious. A good thing in my increasingly battered book, f'sure. (RJ)

ANT Footprints Through the Snow CD (Homesleep Music, Italy, 2006)
Thirteen unassuming stabs at the kind of fragile songwriting guaranteed to either send you towards homicidal tendencies or reeling into a pit of introspection so deep nobody but the most meek will feel compelled to cast a rescue ladder into. Either way, it’s a lost cause. As such music goes, this bobs along gently enough, but it lacks the magic or cynicism that can salvage it and unfortunately strays a little too close to the domain of the bedwetter for comfort too much. Ant may well possess a talent for exposing his heart with the aid of his keen songwriting abilities, but he seriously needs to grow some balls. (RJ)

AUTOMATED ACOUSTICS Love to the Dedicated Listener CD (Alternative Blueprint, 2007)
A label which says that it celebrates artists who are unique and hard to categorise is a good thing. And, despite some initial misgivings, this disc grew on me as it went along. I started off not too sure about it, but got swept up in the sheer unpredictability of the sounds.
It ranges from some clever, almost AFX-like songs to a grooviness that reminds me a little of Bad Seeds’ offshoot Crime & the City Solution, or a safer take on the sound of Xiu Xiu. At its strongest moments, it’s a breath of fresh air, something that really does defy comparison. At its weaker moments, it sounds a little too much like it’s trying to be music for art college students, striving for a strangeness that doesn’t come naturally.
The chief drawback of the album is that there is just too much of it. The whole project could have done with more whittling, to emphasise the potential of its high points.
A sort of wunderkind multi-instrumentalist, the character behind Automated Acoustics doesn’t seem to want for ideas, he just needs to refine a little more going forward. That said, he’s a young’un, this is only his first full-length album, and it seems that the future could be bright. (KM)

THE JOHN BAKER TAPES Volume One/Volume Two CD (Trunk Records, 2008)
Two fantastic insights to the (rightly) long revered and influential BBC Radiophonics Workshop via one of its three mainstays, the late John Baker, who, alongside Delia Derbyshire and David Cain, was responsible for creating some of the most amazing and visionary compositions to have arrived from true experiments in sound beyond those more self-conscious realms generally associated with them. Discovered by his brother, Richard, a large number of these pieces were considered lost until recently and an equally significant amount have never been released before. As such, both collections are invaluable on several counts.
On the first volume, collecting 49 rare and unreleased works recorded from 1963 to 1974, John Baker reveals some of his production techniques in between themes, jingles, public information broadcasts and soundscapes, etc. originally used for BBC radio and television shows and commissions elsewhere. Nestled amongst an array of melodic signature pieces, stabs of strangeness and humourous oddities titled and indeed used for ‘Newstime BBC’, ‘Building the Bomb’, ‘Sling Your Hook’, ‘Man Alive: UFO’, ‘Barnacle Bill’ and so on you’ll find an electronic opening for the film classic ‘Dial M for Murder’, some non-broadcast cues, an interview for ‘Woman’s Hour’, and far more besides.
The second volume collects a further 39 pieces not used by the BBC and is no less captivating than the first. Homespun jazz, library music, feedback loops, electronic jingles from adverts, more demented electro-acoustic passages, test tones, etc. recorded between 1954 and 1985 converge to embellish John Baker’s evident genius further. A soundtrack for Ridley Scott’s debut feature, Boy on a Bicycle, also makes an appearance, once again illustrating a love of jazz but also somehow magically fusing elements drawn, seemingly, from classical music and a colliery’s brass band. Otherwise, titles such as ‘Electro-Suspense’, ‘Electro-Weird’, ‘Get Happy’, ‘Pots ‘n’ Pans’, ‘Piano Concrete’ and so on probably point to everything you may think you know.
At times, both volumes fold together like Joe Meek’s more quirky forays rubbing shoulders with Nurse With Wound and, elsewhere, they prove themselves way outside such lazy confines on my part. Mostly, and somewhat more paradoxically, the albums add up to something which exist outside easy frames of reference. And, whether amusing or created for more serious purposes, the sheer scope of the inventiveness and energy behind it, can only be admired,
Complete with rare photos and liner notes, these two collections come wholeheartedly recommended to everybody interested in truly innovative music. As archives go, this one can only command repeat visits that will never once disappoint. The lines between insanity and genius in sound have once more been drawn. (RJ)

BEEHATCH eponymous CD (Lens, USA, 2008)
Beehatch is the result of a collaboration between Mark Spybey (ex-Zoviet France, Dead Voices On Air, etc.) and Phil Western (Download and platEAU), following ten years since they last worked together in Download and its being realised via the increasingly popular (and more convenient) method of file sharing via the internet; something that, given their respectively residing in England and Los Angeles, they could only do anyway.
Over fourteen cuts, they straddle those filmic areas they’re already known to explore, cut-ups, mashed passages of psycho-mulch, gentle looped voyages through light and dark, waking dreams in sound, electro-pop, and songs that could comfortably sway alongside the likes of Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, Michel Banabila and some of Mark Stewart’s work. Lots of different elements are pulled together and there’s no doubting Spybey and Western’s knack for at least keeping them pumped full of blood, but the whole album suffers for being a little too disparate or blurred around the edges at times. The attention to detail, and even those warts that reside amongst it, is impeccable, but it feels as they’ve lost sight of the whole they’ve created in the process. (RJ)

Although both of these artists have a pedigree in experimental music, I hadn’t been familiar with either of them until listening to this CD. Consequently, if you are familiar with them, I’m not going to be able to tell you whether this release is a logical continuation of either or their work. What I can tell you is that this is a collaboration (as opposed to a split release) and that it was recorded as part of the Brombron series put together by Frans De Waard, where artists such as Main, Tore Honore Boe and Jaap Blonk are brought together to work on a project for a fixed period of time. This is the tenth CD that the larger project has generated (there have been three more released since).
The music is an extremely minimal but likeable techno, with an irresistible pulse lurking beneath its sparse surface. It helps that the production is particularly sharp, so that the resulting sound mix has every whir and click perfectly placed. A flatter style would have rendered the work bland.
It could be argued that this sort of music is a more stripped down variant of the kind of thing labels like Sakho were doing in the mid-nineties, but the fact that it is so engaging shows that there are greater depths to be plumbed in that ocean. (KM)

CRESCENT Little Waves CD (FatCat, 2007)
This is the second album I’ve heard out of their total of five by this Bristol-based group. The last one being, well, their last album, from four years earlier, By the Roads and the Fields, which has been something I’ve turned to on many a wintry night since reviewing it. Little Waves sees the group moving from analogue recording to digital but thankfully losing none of the rugged beauty of the previous album. Singer Matt Jones’ soft yet husky vocals once again recall a world-weary and (emotional) battle-scarred soul caught thick in the middle of a search for his lost self, whilst the music that backs it appears to be beamed from a time and space otherwise only to be found in dusty corners of record shops. No surprise then that Jones has cited 1930s gramaphone records, old folk and blues music, and even Indonesian Gamelan and the magnificent Pearls Before Swine’s One Nation Underground LP as being amongst the touchstones for Little Waves. This album possesses precisely the same feel of being from a slightly different place whilst neither compromising Crescent’s obvious songwriting ability or sounding unnatural.
Gentle acoustic melodies bind an array of instruments that include organ, horns, drums and homemade double bass together with a variety of environmental or found sounds which embellish the proceeedings perfectly. Combined with a very subtle nod towards contemporary electronica’s more adventurous plains, minute mistakes and a roughly-hewn edge likewise add to the setting.
As with the album before it, this is brimming with an earnest warmth, a rawness and bruised beauty impossible to resist. It suggests musty photo albums, walks along leafy paths after the rain has just cleared, staring out of a window of a derelict house, broken toys from one’s own childhood, buried dreams and well-thumbed pages. Such an air of sentimentality could so easily become trite in the wrong hands, but Crescent pull it off fantastically.
How it all compares to their lo-fi punk-inspired beginnings 14 years ago, I don’t yet know. Maybe it’s actually better I keep it that way? (RJ)

THE DEATH RAYS Twelve Gauge Blues CD (DTK Records, Canada, 2007)
Balls-out, punked-up ‘n’ tremor-inducin’ destructo-rock of the type first stoked by the likes of Black Flag or even Flipper, (un)healthily peppered with riffin’ Stooges cruncherama, vocals that sound mercilessly torn from their lungs, psychotic sax blasts and all the trappings of a band doubtlessly aware of their cliched trappings but’re intent on having a fucken good time regardless of what I, or anybody else, thinks. Actually makes a change to have something like this around here, too. A massive flip-off to all the chin-scratchers amongst us. (RJ)

KEVIN DRUMM Sheer Hellish Miasma CD (Mego, Germany, 2007)
If you’re going to call an album Sheer Hellish Miasma, as far as I’m concerned, you’d better be prepared to back it up. When you consider further that this release is actually a reissue of a much-lauded 2002 album (with extra material added), there was already a lot for Mr. Drumm to live up to by the time I had broken the seal on its tastefully minimalist packaging.
Perhaps if my expectations hadn’t been raised, this would have been a more enjoyable experience for me. Certainly, there are sections of the album that captured my interest, but nothing that truly won me over. The buzzy, layered drones of the first track oscillate and shimmer in a nice chorus effect, in a manner not dissimilar to some American power electronics, but without the PE spite. The second track is more rhythmic, with stuttering percussion hammering out an almost African cadence.
Unfortunately, after track two, which comes to an abrupt end, the album starts to drift. It meanders from tone to tone without much sense of dynamics and never builds on the energy of the opening tracks. This loss of direction is something I find Drumm shares with Jim O’Rourke, an artist with whom he has collaborated and to whom he has often compared.
Not bad, but not a sheer hellish miasma in either a bad or a good way. (KM)

FELLAHEAN Insignificant Scrap CD (Fellacoustic Records, USA, 2008)
Not the same Fellaheen whose records I chanced upon years ago who also hailed from the US but with a different vowel. Rather, what we have here are thirteen pieces of full-on electronics noise fuckery emanating from the same camp that exploded into the likes of Daniel Menche, The Incapacitants and infinite others whose smacks around the cranium have been long endorsed by RRR, for example. There are some interesting twists, turns and textures hewn from what’s an otherwise immensely abrasive block of sound, lending the proceedings that all-important disorientating or vaguely ‘delic quality very much required in order to make it work, but I’m not so heavily into such music these days (I take time out for Whitehouse and a coupla old Japanoisers, but that’s about it), to be perfectly honest. Third cut, ‘Purchase’, stands out for its slightly more rhythmic tendency leaking violently like burst bruises all over the place. With bedfellows titled ‘Data’, ‘File’, ‘Return’, ‘Amount’, ‘Fees’, and so on, Fellahean appear to be furnishing us with some appropriate enough reflections on the present age, and it’d be unfair they stop there, that’s for sure. (RJ)

FORMICATION Icons for a New Religion CD (Lumberton Trading Company, 2007)
Ah, this is what reviewers dream of and fear. A record that’s hard to describe. It’s a challenge, of course and you start off your review wanting to communicate something of the atmosphere that these two musicians draw from a diverse collection of instruments (guitars and synths on the mainstream side, djembe and “tooting horn” on the obscure side), except that knowing the instruments won’t tell you a thing about what the final product actually sounds like.
So, you start over again and try to think of words that might be evocative of the end result of all these processed guitars and tooting horns and such. Juxtaposed terms like “mellow psychedelia” or “undulating electronics” sort of help to approach the subject, but seem to miss the gracefulness inherent in it.
It’s only after a couple of listens that it strikes you that there’s something a little bit familiar about the sound, something in the back of your mind with which it forms a continuum. Coil. Mid-nineties to early-whatever-you-call-this-decade Coil is the closest link in sound and mood, which is fitting, since Coil themselves were notoriously difficult to describe.
This is not to say that the music is derivative, far from it, but sometimes a comparison is worth far more than a reviewer throwing terms like “burbling” and “mysterious” and “morphing” at you. Well worth keeping a lookout for, now and in the future. (KM)

FORMICATION Agnosia CD (Harmful/Dark Winter, 2007)
Closely following their album for my very own Lumberton imprint, Formication bring us another handful of cuts that, this time, roll along a more pronounced emphasis on rhythms. Sometimes akin to a chattering alien computer or a funeral march past a foundry where a lonely worker sweats away, the rhythms swing nicely between being busy and more subdued whilst forever avoiding those more obvious beat trappings. Alongside ghostly psychedelic textures, distant wails, carefully woven torrents of amber hiss, finely-hewn pulses and equally measured minimal keyboard chord strikes, everything feels befitting of either a haunting film score or perhaps a chemically-soaked recess where nostalgia, lost days and reflection reign. Only the final, fifth track moves away from such anchorage towards the type of electronic interstellar gush they’re usually happy to fall adrift in, but it is still solidly executed and works perfectly. Just a shame the packaging (a black & white slipcase with sombre images on not so far removed from the approach adopted by many a dodgy goth group) betrays the music, unfortunately. (RJ)

FREIBAND Leise CD (Cronica, Portugal, 2007)
Ten compositions based on recordings his then three-year-old daughter made, using musical and non-musical instruments/sound sources, represent Frans de Waard’s Freiband’s third album. As with other Freiband material, the emphasis is as much on computer processing as the original material used for it, but while the realms explored are of a chiefly electro-acoustic nature they are never rendered sterile as a result of the environment. Rather, all manner of interesting thuds, pops, crackles, scrapes and suchlike weave around each other to form atmospheric textures, mostly gentle patterns, occasional rhythmic snatches and the general digital palette that could only too easily be staid if left in the wrong hands. Once again, Frans proves that he has a firm grasp on his inventiveness, possesses an ability to shade it in many ways, and refrains from allowing it to plummet into the very depths of boredom so much music of this nature is guilty of. (RJ)

ERIK FRIEDLANDER & TEHO TEARDO Giorni Rubati CD (Bip-Hop, 2008)
Thirteen songs inspired by the poems of murdered Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini feature on this trans-Atlantic collaboration by downtown New York improvisation cellist Friedlander and prolific Italian electronic composer, Teardo, known otherwise for his soundtrack work, involvement with several groups, and remixes for bands or artists as diverse as Placebo, Girls vs. Boys, Rothko and Lydia Lunch. Initially based on 8 multi-tracked or single track responses to the poems recorded by Friedlander, Teardo reworked the recordings while adding piano, electronics and guitar along the way. From the plaintive ‘Ricordi di Miseria’, with its haunting textures and the cello strokes given centre stage, to the alarmingly viable and vaguely electro-punk-gone-minimal cover of ‘Warm Leatherette’ that closes the album, Giorni Rubati both splits its seams with surprises and commands nothing but your full attention. Highly recommended. (RJ)

FUCK BUTTONS Colours Move promo CDS (ATP Recordings, 2008)
Imagine prime cut Spacemen 3 or even early Spiritualised sliced, diced ‘n’ sprinkled over a slightly more aggressive palette via some colossal mesmer-rhythms hewn like proto-industrial’s dancefloor cousin and ‘Colours Move’ may well hammer itself into focus accordingly. Dunno how this cut compares with the rest of this duo’s debut album, ‘Street Horrrsing’, from earlier this year, but it simultaneously reminds me Terminal Cheesecake and newer cousins in fucken fucked and celebratory fuckedelia, Holy Fuck. A nice and chunky Andrew Weatherall remix, ‘Sweet Love for Planet Earth’, seems as fitting as both the support slot to Mogwai and the fact this release can only otherwise be found on 12” or download. Apparently, the press have been creaming themselves over ‘em, but I rarely keep abreast of such matters. At least it seems vaguely justified for once, anyway. (RJ)

GUY GELEM Works CD (Split Femur Recordings, 2008)
Simple, minimalistic electronic rhythms and sinewy guitar melodies fleshed out by some often suitably atmospheric cello playing form the basis to this debut instrumental album by London’s Guy Gelem. Because it only too often falls near those kingdoms already signposted by the likes of Mum or Fridge, it isn’t the elevatory experience it’d probably like to be, but Works makes for a pleasant enough, if rather perfunctory, halfway house to them. Shame there were no more of the Italian folk touches, as witnessed on fifth cut ‘Village’, peppered throughout, really. (RJ)
Split Femur Recordings Ashleigh, Main Road, Great Haywood, Staffs., ST18 0SU www.splitfemurrecordings.com

GENERIC Torture CD (FracturedSpace Records, 2008)
Generic is the name given to Adam Sykes’ outlet for the type of tempered space mulch you may well actually expect when faced with it and likewise, of course, the title of this debut CD ‘proper’. Adam, formerly known as the guy behind the now defunct Iris Light imprint, here proffers six cuts spun from deep drones, slow machine rhythms, spiralling fragments of hiss and the kind of brooding malevolence that’s designed perfectly for the domain of the horror film or, indeed, those club spaces where the black clad amongst us tend to mooch about in. Whilst the work doesn’t really scale heights beyond so much else I’ve stumbled upon (more by chance than design) on various labels set up to promote post-industrial gloom-mongering, it’s neither unlistenable or disagreeable. Last track, ‘Torture Garden II’, is especially nice for its falling nearer H3o-type haze, but overall I feel Generic still has a way to go if it wishes to be as fully captivating as, say, Band Of Pain or even Biopsphere’s forays into such realms. (RJ)
FracturedSpace Records, 5 Serjeant’s Green, Neath Hill, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. www.myspace.com/fracturedspacerecords

ROBERT HAMPSON + STEVEN HESS eponymous CDEP (Crouton, USA, 2006)
Four collabs all spanning the four-to-six minutes mark from Robert Hampson, otherwise known for his work with Main and Loop outside various collaborations, and US drummer/percussionist Steven Hess, whose own credits include Pan American, Fessenden and others. Half-submerged creaks, skittering shimmers and what sounds like a computer protesting at the bottom of a mineshaft wander into ripples created by mild cymbal sweeps, fragmented pulses, sequences of minute pops ‘n’ poots and vaguely rhythmic whorls. Neither unpleasant or particularly unexpected but, rather, somewhat unremarkable. Sometimes wish Hampson would just squeeze some blood out of his pores again, to be honest. Whatever, limited to 500 and probably long gone, like you actually care… (RJ)

HUNTSVILLE For the Middle Class CD (Rune Grammofon, 2006)
Pretty incredible long-player by the Norwegian trio of Ivar Grydeland, Tonny Kluften and Ingar Zach, who’ve long been involved with the free improvisation world already documented by Grydeland’s Sofa label on a number of releases since 2000. Here, however, they utilise all manner of instruments from guitars, double bass, banjo, tabla machine and various others originating from India to explore a more recent interest in drone, country, folk and electronic music. Opening song, ‘The Appearance of a Wise Child’, tethered to around 15 mins worth of driving, hypnotic percussion and snatching some random vocals along the way, largely sets the tone for the remainder of the release. Organic textures snake around each other, rhythms staple everything to that juncture where everything points to an apex of unadulterated ecstasy, and discernible ur-strums combine with frenetic bows and scrapes for that only too important raw effect so hard to find in this day of software-generated sterilisation. Only second track, ‘Serious Like a Pope’ loses its grip slightly as the pace is whittled back to a near Fahey-esque approach rendered better on fourth and final cut, ‘Melon’, which furnishes us with a comparatively stripped and gentle touchdown to the proceedings. Nonetheless, Huntsville sound like their experience within such realms of music is paying off. The product of people who know their game without having let their imagination or yearning to voyage to new places suffer. Fucken dandy in my book, I have to concede. (RJ)

Karkowski is a well-known figure on the international circuit concerning digital-noise, improvised electronics and audio-visual performances. Based in Tokyo for the past few years, he continues to travel the globe and play art and club spaces on a fairly regular basis, somehow successfully blurring the lines between his grounding in power electronics-inspired sonics and a more mannered, ‘academic’ approach en route. On this collaboration with Japanese video artist, Nojiri, he has put together a few tracks using source material originally recorded live by a number of musicians in San Francisco.
Various strings, guitars, wind instruments and percussion were deployed by three collectives who then had their work manipulated by Karkowski. Although it’s evident the sounds are teased and processed, the original forms also appear to have been handled with a modicum of respect, rendering a keen ear with a sense of balance to the proceedings. Or, if you like, an almost perfect melding of the organic with software via corridors padded with a healthy imagination…
The DVD itself features three mid-length pieces where, on ‘Float’, tempered drones, ghostly scrapes and knocks, soaring tones, minimalist percussion and subtle rattling are pushed into a dynamic range Glenn Branca would be proud of whilst accompanied by suitably hallucinatory yet relaxing colourful lines swaying about the screen. Second track, ‘Tritonal Rapture’, presents more of a quasi-industrial offering, with heavier emphasis on percussion and the general feeling that something unpleasant may be going on in the nearest basement, and last piece ‘Membrane’ is akin to an almost full-on attack of multi-layered voices completely unlike the sourced material or, indeed, the comparatively soothing visuals.
Two lengthier pieces go on to form the CD part of the nicely presented package, ‘Mass-Flow-Rate’ and ‘Perceptor’; the former resembling a flying saucer’s perhaps slightly malfunctioning engine during a rendezvous with a black hole and the latter nudging towards Aube territory. Not, therefore, quite as overtly absorbing as the work on the DVD, visuals or no visuals, but at least executed with the precision one would expect of a master within the genre. (RJ)

KEPLERS ODD Strena Seu de Nive Sexangula CD (Fractured Spaces, 2008)
Trio from Sweden’s third album with seven untitled and largely agreeable slices of moody yet sinewy guitar-led instrumental pieces which gently nod towards The Cure’s classic Seventeen Seconds and Faith albums whilst sucking on the same air as comparatively more contemporary artists such as Stars Of The Lid and Labradford. There’s a heavier emphasis on the foggy swirls and post-industrial sounds buried way down, but the overall tone is one of minimalist melancholy and rather subdued despair. Everything mostly hangs together with both a meaning and intent that belies the ‘noise-drone-ambient’ angle heralded by the press sheet, anyway. Only the fourth and fifth cuts’ meandering into Skullflower-esque distortion-anchored landscapes gives the general effect a slight hammering, unfortunately, as they appear to be borne of an idea to prove Keplers Odd worthy of the ‘noise’ school more than anything more focussed or, well, rich in feeling. I’m all for noise, but it has to be harnessed or have direction. In the context presented here, it carries no weight and deflates an otherwise good album. All the same, worth keeping a half-mast peeper on, at the very least. And I certainly wouldn’t mind investigating the previous albums, either. (RJ)
Fractured Spaces Records, 5 Serjeants Green, Neath Hill, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK14 6HA.

DAVID KRISTIAN Ghost Storeys CD/DVD (C0C0S0L1DC1TI, Canada, 2008)
‘Last studio’ album from prolific and highly revered Canadian electronic music composer, David Kristian, collaborating here with Ryosuke Aoike, Japan’s much vaunted Manga animator responsible for creating Catman and Perestroika, on five films based on Japanese ghost stories. The music itself veers through those spaces where appropriately drifting penumbral shimmers wrap themselves around distant knocks, crashes and taps like ectoplasm manifesting into menacing forms. While shades of Lustmord or the moodier textures behind Thomas Koner’s arctic explorations instantly leap out as reference points, we mustn’t lose sight of Kristian’s intentions here or, indeed, the fact that he conducts them perfectly. As a starting point to his newfound direction as a soundtrack composer, these thirteen compositions represent nothing but a mission firmly accomplished.
Aoike’s five silent shorts, working themselves through gloomy hues, never overstated abstractions, neatly hewn graphics and sequences often as haunting or evocative as the music itself are a sheer pleasure to watch despite what generally appear to be rather simple premises. If, like myself, you’ve not seen any Manga films in a long time, these may well just convince you that the time to redress the balance is way overdue. (RJ)

ANDREW LILES & JEAN-HERVE PERON Fini! CD (Dirter Promotions, 2008)
I have to ‘fess that I sometimes now baulk at the idea of reviewing material concerning my friends, and this particular release is a double-barrelled example in that it features Mr. Liles and is on Steve Pittis’ label. Thankfully, however, the former, despite my presently rather featherweight criticism of there simply being too much available by him now being completely at odds with my own endorsement of his work via releases on my own labels, has barely made a duff record yet, whilst Pittis’ Dirter Promotions is very much a kindred spirit to my own labels in that it’s never been hip, is dedicated to purely reflecting Steve’s own interests, and has indeed crossed over with mine at several points. Basically, our labels are in the same (possibly sinking but certainly stinking) boat, and always have been. Returning to the point about Liles’ work, however, I think my problem with there being so much output by him now stems from the belief that he’s going to slip up very badly at any given time now, but my fears are violently cast aside with absolutely every new record I hear by him these days. And this collaboration with one of Faust’s founders is no exception.
Beginning, as it does, with a welcoming Faust-type drum loop and Jean-herve yowling and protesting that, as the title suggests, ‘The Drummer is on Valium’, plus all from metallic clunks and scrapes to what sounds akin to an android gibbon deeply in pain and some rockin’ guitar, the tone is largely set for an album that appears to get better, and perheps more skewed, as the following thirteen cuts unspool their very guts. As the piece begins to plummet into some nicely hewn noise towards the end of its 8 minutes running time, we’re given the usual few seconds pause before ‘I Do Not Like To Get Wet’ assumes a posture dominated by Liles’ presence. Trademark flirtations with the carnivalesque and downright absurd bubble ‘n’ foam away, hinting at those cloud-strewn netherworlds Liles’ ouevre has continually poked its tendrils at since first crawling amongst the moonlit shadows. Only a rusty trumpet really seems s to bag the air trapped by Jean-herve, but rusty brass is welcome into my palace any day. Third track, ‘Shut Up & Sit Down’, sticking to the two-to-three minutes mark dominating most of the pieces and held together by the kinda plaintive enough guitar strums that wouldn’t be outta place on an early post-punk record, pays witness to more of Jean-herve’s vocals and all kinds of indiscernible, mutated noises spiralling from a Lovecraftian rift clearly exploited elsewhere. Whilst its only too apparent that the recent Faust collaborations with Nurse With Wound represent an inevitable meeting of minds, Liles and Jean-herve alone together mould far more fantastic shapes from the subconsciousness than you may’ve heard in quite a time. Not only that, but Fin! Really fucken, uh, ‘rocks’ in places, too.
Indeed. Work your way through the looped breaths, rasps, muted bass drums pounds and complaining horse of ‘Shake Your Hooves’ and there’s so much fantastic guitar fuzz to swathe yourself in you can almost hear early Skullflower battling it out with The Stooges. Which is precisely one of the reasons the instrument itself was invented for, as far as I’m concerned, and I vehemently advise seeing a doctor if you stupidly think otherwise.
Of course, guitars don’t cloak the album entirely, however. Other tracks, such as ‘I Lost Faith in Words’, consist of a haphazard yet playful collection of cut-ups, gadgetry and vocals, and ‘Congo Bongo La La La’ is virtually self-explanatory aside from the additional employment of a flute and gleeful speed-fuckery. Then, penultimate piece, ‘It’s Too Loud’ kicks off with a couple of layers of Jean-herve saying god knows what in German before we’re sent reeling spacewards with more six-stringed lunacy. The signs proclaiming there being two geniuses at work don’t have a solitary chance of remaining mounted…
Friends or not, this is a grand album. My objectivity forever rules regardless and, well, if any of you fuckers trust me, you can sure as hell count on me regarding this release. The only disappointing thing is the shitty, almost throwaway artwork. It looks like the kinda album one would find on RRR or a dodgy US noise label. The music deserved better. (RJ)

GETATCHEW MEKURIA, THE EX & GUESTS Moa Anbessa CD (Terp Records, The Netherlands, 2006)
It had been a considerable amount of years since I last heard The Ex before this album, and I’d never felt particularly won over by their rather Gang Of Four-inspired delves into angular and sometimes noisy rock, but this collaboration both caught my attention and jolted it for six almost immediately on the very first listen. Getatchew Mekuria is a highly respected saxophonist from Ethiopia who, now in his 70s, has been playing in his own, almost free-leaning, style since 1947. Utilising typical Ethiopian signatures, his vibrato blasting takes its main cue from a war-chant that then spirals wonderfully into colourful melodies, blistering attacks and more mournful refrains. Alongside The Ex’s staggered rhythms, mannered anger, punked-up guitar cuts, buoyant (but not cloying) playfulness and the addition of a horn section whose own accompaniments swell everything out perfectly, the eleven songs barely contain a passion I’ve hardly heard outside certain Polish groups originally snagged in the ‘Yass’ circuit of the 1990s. Overtly, the album represents a highly spirited meeting of minds downright impossible to ignore. And, heck, if this illustrates what The Ex have been up to in more recent years, then those early misigivings of mine need to be retracted immediately. Likewise, as quite possibly my first (small) helping of Ethiopian music, it sounds like an entrance paved in gold. Would have loved to have caught this live, and no mistake. (RJ)
Terp Records, PO Box 635, 1000 AP Amsterdam, The Netherlands

DAVOR MIKAN Tauschung CD (Cronica, Portugal, 2007)
Four years in the making, the 28 miniatures (as, indeed, they generally are; only one piece goes over the four minutes mark, only a few hover around the two-to-three-minutes length, and the remainder range from eleven seconds to being barely much longer than a minute) here by Mikan, a Vienna-based artist given to combining algorithmic music with handmade sounds, resemble the type of scrunched-up electro-acoustic compositions RLW has perfected over the years. Balls of light and dark bounce against jagged and often jarring micro-patterns teased into something then invitingly teased elsewhere. As with other such works, this is not a place to turn to for comfort or to get dragged along by. Instead, Mikan creates a completely absorbing space where sounds are explored and pushed into new realms perfectly reflecting the whole gamut of emotions without the crutches served by convention. It is music designed to climb inside, and it works fantastically. (RJ)

GEOFF MULLEN thrtysxtrllnmnfstns CD (Entschuldigen Entgeoff, Germany, 2007)
Combination of treated guitar drones, textures, electronics, banjo plucking and suchlike on a debut album which sucks on the already congealed juices of what certain people have been calling ‘Americana’ during recent years. Although it functions on an agreeable enough level, it is hard to imagine this work being capable of fulfilling those with more demanding appetites. Certainly, the multi-layered mininimalist drone pieces are okay, but they’re ultimately similar to only too many other processed mulch works of this nature. Put them next to any other such artist’s work and I’ll give a big bag o’ sweets to the person who can discern Mullen’s own endeavours from them. No lie. On other cuts not so readily anchored, a subtle folk-ish leaning can be occasionally whiffed between the patchwork of glitches, pops and micro-parps, but Leafcutter John’s throne won’t be toppled yet. Again, it’s all okay, but we now live in a world where only too much music is merely ‘okay’ when, let’s face it, more of it should be fucken gobsmackingly blinding. Kudos must be given for the handmade feel of the packaging, however. Each copy of the album arrives with digital prints by artist Sarah Powers glued to the front and back of the digipak, plus a cloth bag inside containing a photo and info sheet by Mullen. More artists/groups could learn from this, at the very least. (RJ)

NEUBAU rymdmyr CD (Nonine Recordings, Germany, 2008)
Neubau is Arno Steinacher, who has been composing music since he was 12 and is known in more recent times for his work in the domains of improvisation and electronic music. The nine cuts here paint a remarkably alluring picture, allowing tiny melodic refrains to work alongside fragmentary whispers of sound, occasional pulses, field recordings, little digital poots and sighs, and electro-acoustic platforms to rather startling effect. Without doubt, Neubau’s work owes much to the whole scope of micoscopic sound exploration but, with the aid of more organic devices such as voice and even a cello at certain points, the focus appears to be of a far warmer stock and enriched with ideas usually barely touched on by such artists. If anything, it all swings towards those places Ralf Wehowsky’s explorations sometimes point to, yet with a sense of more obvious structure underpinning proceedings. Ultimately, it’s an album rife with nourishment and a satisfying, yet not smug, air of surprise that’s firmly capable of pulling us into its world and never once letting go till the very last note sounds out. Near perfect. (RJ)

NíD Plate Tectonics CD (Aufabwegen, Germany, 2006)
Posthumous release by this Swiss-German trio dedicated to mostly drone-bound sounds, noise manipulation, foggy samples and dialogue snatches. Here, three lengthy pieces encircle some fantastic voyages through muted hum, looped voices, gentle vibrations and the stench of noxious ooze. The last one, ‘35000 Feet Below the Ocean Surface’, clocks in at almost 22 minutes and hints at a leather-clad NWW surveying a desert of black ash. Which works a treat for me. (RJ)
Aufabwegen, P.O. Box 152, 50441 Cologne, Germany

PURE SOUND Submarine CD (Euphonium, 2007)
This release advertises itself as "ambient, avant garde, experimental", but I have to say that this release doesn't really match up to these adjectives. The first track, ‘Breathe Deep, My Love’, comes on like an ersatz Can (complete with ‘Mother Sky’ bassline), and what follows is a bunch of acoustic guitar strumming and plunking, samples of World War Two-era monologues and quotes, submarine-like beeps and bloops (do you see?), some sardonic (and to be honest, tiresome) vocals, rumbling loops and drones, various bits of found sound, and so forth. There are some nice touches here and there, such as the atmospheric piano playing of ‘Get My Cutting Head Down’, however, but on the whole there is a lack of focus present, with the impression that Pure Sound are attempting to squeeze in as many sounds and ideas as they can, which don't always work well or hang together. In addition, they are treading a well-worn path in respect to what they are attempting, and I found my attention often drifting whilst listening to Submarine - a case of "heard it all before", perhaps? Mixing songwriting and atmospherics can work sometimes, but it's a tricky thing to pull off, and to be honest, I feel that Pure Sound have somewhat missed the mark. (SC)

RAN SLAVIN The Wayward Regional Transmissions CD (Crónica, Portugal, 2007)
Latest work from this Tel Aviv-based audio-visual artist, anchored to the fundamental premise of marrying sounds from the Oriental Middle East to contemporary glitchworks. It’s an idea bursting with a promise, however, which generally fails to live up to the album’s opening highlight of ‘Village’, which succeeds because it is carried along by Israel’s leading singer-songwriter Ahuva Ozeri’s three-steel-string instrument, the Bulbul Tarang. And, despite her appearing with the very same instrument on a further three songs, only ‘Hagalil’ and ‘Wayward Initial’ from these vaguely sniff near its warmth and immediacy. Between these pieces, we witness at least an edging towards the original idea, if not the fullest realisation of it.
The remainder of the album relies too heavily on the already stated software fuckery methods that now only seem incredibly lazy, easy and, of course, only too often employed by a grey and sickly tide of clueless bastards with absolutely nada to offer.
What could have been a truly enterprising venture turns out to be, unfortunately, yet another album that, certainly during its finer points, hints at a scope far wider than it possibly even originally set out to. Pity it’s swiftly cut short by its predictability.
A truly wasted opportunity. (RJ)

PETER REHBERG Kapotte Muziek by… 3” CD (Korm Plastics, NL, 2007)
Digital-noise artist Rehberg, more commonly known as Pita, here works source material from Kapotte Muziek’s first workshop, recorded in 1997. Approximately 17 minutes of amorphous sonic buggery tweaked into something quite beautiful, with all the cut-ups and junkyard mayhem of Frans de Waard’s KM outlet buried, perhaps, like a corpse in the cellar that’s still making its fragrant presence felt. Such collaborations, I strongly maintain, should always subsist on the fundamental idea of hitching the original material to completely different points. Narratives, sounds and even the most vague of notions need to be both thoroughly explored and then redressed. And Rehberg understands this perfectly. Shame it’s such a stupidly short release, really. (RJ)

SHINING Grindstone CD (Rune Grammofon, Germany, 2007)
Persuasive second album by a Norwegian rock outfit whose combined background in jazz, theatre, pop and film music clearly pays dividends if Grindstone is anything to go by. Despite a blistering assault into the crevice where Prog joins forces with what many tend to deem ‘Art-rock’ (as with most such terms, it’s so wide and variable that it cannot be pinpointed to any particular sound; rather, it’s a generic badge to be pinned on the lapels of those whose ‘rock’ dabblings are ‘clever’, ‘intelligent’, ‘sophisticated’ and simply steer clear of the ‘dunt’ trappings so many musicians in the area vy for…I’ve seen ‘Art-rock’ levelled at all from Roxy Music, Magma and Pere Ubu to Peter Hammill, Wire, and Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and none of them bear many similarities. Nonetheless, I’ll run with it for now anyway), there are huge ‘n’ juicy dives into the domain of the film soundtrack via haunting or even bombastic sections, plus healthy dips into other waters altogether. ‘Moonchild Mindgames’ starts out like something you’d expect to hear emanating from a decent jazz bar before then getting itself entangled in some dark strands o’ wisp perhaps left by a recordist for an old B-movie. The bizzarely titled ‘Stalemate Longan Runner’ picks at medieval scabs also found elsewhere, and ‘To Be Proud of Crystal Colours is to Live Again’ is a short instrumental that wouldn’t be out of place on Danny Elfman’s fantastic score for Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. Meantime, ‘ASA NISI MASA’ actually succeeds in making vocoded vocals seem acceptable.
At certain intervals it brings to mind fellow Scandinavians Circle and at others maybe Goblin if they’d been put together by Ozzy, but such parallels cannot realistically be drawn for too long. Above all, this is just a great, very lively and inventive album so stuffed with sonic protein it’s impossible to leave unattended. Shining make rock music sound like the kind of banquet even unsociable ragamuffins such as myself would only too happily attend. Incredible work. (RJ)

SWARMS The Silver Hour CD (Vendlus, Norway, 2008)
Five compositions recorded between 2002 and 2006 by a group revolving around Kim Solve, Petter Berntsen and several others caught on those icy winds often found nestled amongst the fjords of their native Norway. Somewhere between The Hafler Trio’s blend of plaintive textures and Biosphere’s ventures into frozen gush, Swarms own take on matters, unlike so many others nestled amongst such folds, at least avoids falling into that awful and cloying cod-horror post-industrial fissure so many morose Scandinavians seem to lick their blistered lips into a lather over. Muffled voices, chains dragged slowly along distant floors, broken rhythmic rasps and sighs, ghostly yet enchanting nods amongst the static, and a very carefully measured approach to the matters at hand prevent Swarms from appearing like an unwanted guest at a party. This is a good way to drift into some stray thoughts. And I speak as somebody cloaked in heaps o’ reservations initially. So, yeah, take it as gospel, if you choose… (RJ)

TROUM AIWS CD (Transgredient, Germany, 2007)
AIWS is the first full-length release by this German duo since 2003 and collects recordings from between 2002 and 2005. With a title translating as ‘eternity’ in gothic language or representing an abbreviation of ‘Alice-In-Wonderland-Syndrome’ (I have no ‘net access as I type, so haven’t the faintest idea what this is right now, unfortunately), it collects nine melancholic drone-orientated pieces drafted from guitars, e-bow, accordion, voices, Sufi-songs, flute and the forever enticing surface sounds from old vinyl. Everything is recorded in analogue and, as the cover itself proudly proclaims, no computer, sampler or synths were used, which is no mean statement in itself if you have a rough grasp of recording and production techniques but still gasps a welcome sigh when placed next to today’s Ableton-bound explorers into little sonic kingdoms. Overtly, Troum work with slowly shifting foggy textures where other sounds also get knitted in to add to the mood, though. At times, it draws from similar pools to certain minimalist composers or, say, some of Eno’s ambient works, but the atmospherics share a malignance or sense of gloom more commonly associated with the duo’s own post-industrial peers. Occasionally everything drifts into some beautiful miasmic patterns, such as on the opening ‘Amhateins’, and the following ‘Aggilus’, but elsewhere Troum’s handle is lost and replaced by a more generic and predictable approach. It is clear Troum possess the ability to create droneworks that are majestic and powerful, however. Let’s hope they continue to nurture it. (RJ)
For more information, visit Drone Records: www.dronerecords.de

VARIOUS ARTISTS Audiotoop CD and 28pp book (Korm Plastics, NL, 2007)
A very curious release, this - it appears to be a spin-off from a series of live events (also called ‘Audiotoop’) that took place in early 2005 in the Netherlands. This CD and book package has the feel of being geared towards young children, with the book consisting of artwork and illustrations provided by each of the 10 (mainly Dutch) artists present. This impression continues with the initial track by Jana and Bertin (‘English Spoken’), which has both performers discussing some increasingly daft scenarios, whilst occasionally being interrupted by some seriously irritating bargain basement sounds. Henri-Chopinesque vocal manipulations are essayed on Freek Lomme en Remco van Bladel's ‘OERatiaudio Empir’, and much of the rest of this release features spoken word combined with either washes of electronics, or (more frequently) musique concrete-type juxtapositions. The most engaging moments come from the distinctly non-Dutch Bohman Brothers, whose ‘This Is Rocketscience’ combine their often-humorous whispering and ranting with their unique take on electro-acoustic sound manipulation. The CD as a whole is a pleasurable distraction, and a novel take on an area of music that can often be bogged down by the po-faced and humorless. It's not the sort of release I would find myself returning to regularly, but I do like its lack of pretentiousness and sense of fun. Worth checking out if you're in the mood for some Low Country shenanigans. (SC)

CHRIS WATSON – BJ NILSEN Storm CD (Touch, 2006)
Three lengthy pieces culled from a collection of recordings made over the course of several years of storm fronts on the respective shorelines of these two renowned artists. The first, by Watson alone, catches the lapping waves, gulls and suchlike from Budle Bay, the Forth and Tyne, etc. making for a natural setting that steadily drifts along towards something more enchantingly alien. ‘SIGWX’, the collaborative second entry, snares a cyclonic North East gale and thundery rain along with an air of Viking menace lifted straight from the Baltic sea, and the third and final piece, by Nilsen alone, catches various coastal locations recorded straight to DAT from his native Sweden. It all adds up to something simultaneously comforting and recognisable as well as faintly disconcerting. A fine balance not altogther removed from, say, some of Eric La Casa’s equally engaging work. Turn out the lights. Sit back. Ride those waves… (RJ)

WoO Mobi Rock CD (rx-tx, Slovenia, 2007)
Debut from an improv guitarist from Belgrade otherwise known for his being a founder of the Belgrade Noise Society and one-time member of noise-rock outfit Off. Over ten cuts, WoO, as he now calls himself, casts his line into that space where gadgets and devices such as remote controllers, mobile phones, a computer mouse, radio receivers and a bow are employed as source material for sonic miniatures to rub alongside guitars and pedals. The results amount to a mostly melodic and atmospheric fabric of loops, drones, inconspicuous random clicks and shuffles, delicate sighs, melodic pings and twangs and suchlike over gently swaying rhythms. It’s all rather pleasant and slots readily alongside so much other material operating within the electronica spectrum but, unfortunately, like the vast majority, has little to actually elevate it beyond the homogenised morass it has trickled from. As with nearly all such music, there’s little to distinguish each of the artists responsible outside their being located in different cities or countries or whatever. Pleasant and very slightly interesting is all very well, but is it really enough? (RJ)

Z’EV/FRANCISCO LOPEZ Buzzin’ Fly/ Dormant Spores CD (Black Rose Recordings, 2007)
Sadly, this is music that some would describe as “ambient”, simply because that seems to be the going term for music that doesn’t have drums or traditional style guitars. The problem with that definition is that it is considered synonymous with “nothing really happens” and there is a world of chthonic wonder to be found in the depths of the sounds herein.
It’s virtually impossible that any fan of experimental or concrete music will not have happened upon the works of either Z’ev or Lopez in their travels. Each is prolific, respected and established within the community. The album is a split, rather than a collaboration (hence the divided title) with the first half, comprised of five shorter linked tracks, belongs to Z’ev, the second, a long single piece, to Lopez. The two halves are a nice match, with the almost blissful organic drift of the former leading nicely into the intense rise and fall of the latter.
This release is all about the texture and progression of sound, so if you are looking for something that truly is ambient- something inoffensive that meekly fades to the background- you might want to look elsewhere. If you’d prefer to throw on headphones for something that will reveal itself more with each subsequent listen, you could do a lot worse. (KM)

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